Cheating: The dreaded problem that faces every school across America — and not just the obvious sneak-a-peak-at-your-neighbor’s-quiz cheating. With thousands of essays, articles and book summaries at their fingertips, American students have discovered the Internet, expanding the opportunities both to cheat and plagiarize.

According to a survey by the National Educational Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, 75 percent of 45,000 students surveyed partake in “serious cheating.” Many rationalize cheating by considering it something that competition forces them to do, and don’t even give their actions a second thought.

But cheating can quickly progress from bad choice to bad habit to addiction. If students become accustomed to dishonesty at a young age, what’s to prevent them from becoming dishonest adults? Although you may intend to only “semi-cheat” one time, each time you cheat it becomes a little easier, and the boundaries you once would not cross become a little more blurred.

Yet high school students today feel so much pressure to succeed that they aren’t even uniformly convinced that cheating is wrong.

“I know that a lot of people at my school copy other people’s homework when they don’t have time to do it — people now think that’s OK,” said Olivia Coffey, a senior at Marlborough School, a private girls school in Hancock Park.

Students “have so much stress and work that they are constantly overwhelmed, and feel that if they don’t do well on everything — which is most of the time impossible — then they’ll die,” Coffey said, echoing thoughts expressed by students at both private and public schools.

“It’s quite common around here, because it is common for all teenagers,” said Beverly Hills High School Senior Lisa Gross.

When students look around them and see other students doing well by plagiarizing off the Internet, or using work of students from previous years, they are encouraged to do the same — especially when that is the message they are getting from the wider society.

“I think students cheat because they learn from their mentors that cheating works and gets you ahead in life,” asserted Roni Cohen, a senior at Shalhevet School, a centrist Orthodox high school in Los Angeles. “Take sports for example. Steroids are being used by top athletes, and some of them are getting away with it.”

There also is not agreement as to what constitutes cheating.

Most people would agree that using an essay found on the Internet is a form of plagiarism, whether it is purchased from a Web site or lifted from, say, an encyclopedia site.

But what about using study guides?

Shalhevet sophomore Gaby Grossman thinks that using an Internet service like Sparknotes as “an outlet to review” is not cheating.

“If an author has a difficult-to-understand writing style, Sparknotes is almost necessary,” Grossman said. It does become a problem when students read Sparknotes in lieu of actual books, she added.

The Torah does not suffer from this confusion, said Rabbi Avi Greene, director of Judaic studies at Shalhevet. Cheating is “taking credit for any work that is not your own, knowingly or unknowingly. There is a concept in the Gemara of genevas da’as, which can be either keeping people from actually learning, or misrepresenting work. I think that’s what applies here, and it’s obviously unacceptable.”

Dr. Jerry Friedman, Shalhevet headmaster, adds that “cheating contradicts everything we stand for as a school, as a community and as Jews.”

James Nikrafter, a senior at the Orthodox high school YULA and an editor of the YULA Panther, believes that the root of the problem is competition, especially in Jewish schools.

“You’re doubling up on curriculum, work and time in school, and you still want to participate in extra-curriculars,” Nikrafter said. “What ends up happening is that students don’t have the time, patience or energy, but at the same time they are so scared to fail that they’ll go for the easy way out.”

Shalhevet senior Tamar Rohatiner suggests that schools should incorporate more things like tutoring or a place like her school’s Writing Center, where students help each other, so people don’t feel the urge to cheat.

“Let’s support the people who need help,” she said. “Kids need to learn how to deal with these struggles now, so they’ll be ready for the real world.”

Molly Keene, a senior at Shalhevet, is life editor of The Boiling Point, where a version of this article first appeared.

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